For many, the holiday season is different from years past as divorce and life choices have changed the family structure.
Accordingly, the holidays can become an anxious time of the year unless parents and relatives adopt a flexible, open mindset.
Stepfamilies that close themselves off emotionally and hold rigidly to past traditions often increase their anxiety, says Josh Klapow, Ph.D. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Klapow says stepfamilies, also known as blended families, are able to work out their differences and reduce their emotional discomfort if they are patient and open to change during the holiday season.
Data show that approximately one third of all children become part of a blended family before they reach age 18.
“The reality is once your family undergoes a divorce and a remarriage, what used to be is gone and you need to focus on what is new and special,” Klapow says.
“A blended family is often a blessing; let the holidays be a good reminder of what you have now.”
Simple strategies can help reduce the discomfort and stress of navigating a blended-family holiday and help children develop positive memories, he says.
Putting a little more time into planning the season’s events and gatherings will reduce the number of unwanted surprises and frustrations.
Klapow’s tips for a loving blended-family holiday:
- Be realistic and objective. “Know going into the holidays that it will not always go smoothly; be reminded that family and children are worth the effort,” Klapow says. “Seasonal family gatherings are situations where people most often feel anxious or stressed, and a blended-family event is no exception.”
- Be flexible. “Look at the winter calendar and remind yourself you can’t fit three holidays on a single 24-hour period, for example. Celebrate by opening gifts on a different date than last year, or plan on eating a holiday meal after an arts- or faith-based event where stepchildren feel welcome,” Klapow says.
- Don’t manipulate. “Follow the rules of the custody agreement with your ex-spouse, and make it your personal goal to stick with the plan,” Klapow says. “You may not get to be with your child on your favorite holiday. Do not try to manipulate the situation and cause heartache and guilt for yourself and others.”
- Be open. “Allow your children to share feelings and remind them they’re welcome to do so. This can be a confusing time for kids; letting them express frustration and anxiety will benefit them and possibly give you new ideas on making holidays a fun, joyful time,” Klapow says.
Klapow emphasizes the need for mutual respect and openness between all members of a blended family, including their extended circle of friends and neighbors, to foster a healthy and joyous blended-family holiday.